Tag Archives: Salem’s Lot

An American Werewolf in London #30DaysOfFright

A unique beast of a movie, An American Werewolf In London is something of a hybrid of a film. One moment it is laugh out loud funny and the next it is shriek out loud scary.

It’s hard to think of a film that has melded horror and comedy to better effect, although at the time of release apparently people didn’t really understand the shifts in tone.

london1

The film charts the journey of two American friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking across the Yorkshire Moors. It’s a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons as one is killed and the other is savaged by a werewolf. David lives but keeps seeing Jack, in various states of decomposition, warning him that on the next full moon he too shall become a rampaging werewolf. David’s visions get weirder until, finally, he transforms in the middle of London.

london6Jack’s scenes are even harder to watch knowing that the year after this film was released Dunne’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, she had just completed work as the older sister in Poltergeist.

In many ways this is a love letter to classic Universal horror, Director John Landis is certainly a fan, even though – pulling something of a Jaws – we don’t get our transformation scene until an hour into the film.

london3That Universal-feel is perhaps best felt when our two wandering Americans stumble upon The Slaughtered Lamb pub and it falls silent. It’s a classic moment in a classic film with its pentagrams, missed dart boards, an on the money Brian Glover and a young Rik Mayall.

The lack of a lycanthrope for that first 60 minutes doesn’t mean we don’t get plenty of scares that still leave scars. The initial attack on the Moors – if only they had stuck to the road as warned – is swift but shocking, especially as moments earlier they were laughing and joking.

london2Then we have the dream sequences, particularly the – never explained but no need to as everyone was too busy being scared – vampiric David in his hospital bed, looking like an extra from Salem’s Lot.

And then there is the scene of David back home with his mum and dad and his younger brother and sister. They are watching The Muppet Show (big at the time and Frank Oz AKA Missy Piggy and Fozzie Bear is also in the film) when the doorbell rings. David’s dad answers the door to be blasted away by Nazi werewolf monster thugs. It’s the scene WTF would perfectly sum up had it existed in 1981.

london12Left field, unexpected and downright disturbing leaving a mark on its viewers – in their pants probably – and mentally for decades to come. What’s great about this though is that when David wakes up his nurse, Jenny Agutter, goes to the window and is promptly stabbed by one of the Nazi beasts. Nearly pulling the Carrie trick midway through the film. Waking up a second time David exclaims ‘holy shit.’ Too right!

london7When the full moon arrives we are instore for a cinematic treat. The transformation scene is still the best committed to film and was all done practically and in camera. No wonder the rumour is that the best make up Oscar category was created specially to honour this film and Rick Baker. And it doesn’t take place in some dark alley, it’s in a fully lit living room.

As well as being a technical marvel it really conveys the painfulness of it all. To all intense and purposes this is David’s death scene.

And there’s something that is still brilliant about the scene knowing that it was all done on set and not one pixel at a time in a computer (take note Van Helsing and An American Werewolf in Paris – lame dogs both).

london8Post transformation we have a flurry of attacks, including one that makes fantastic use of the tube and you can’t fail to think about it next time you find yourself in an empty tube station at night or deserted escalator.

With its similar time-frame, a group of memorable British character actors, its UK. Setting, it’s denial of what is unfolding and its tragic ending I always saw it as something of a companion piece to The Omen in many ways.

london10Agutter is a compelling and a memorable love interest, but it’s Doctor Hirsch who I love most out of the supporting characters. Especially when he is in full investigation mode and travels back to The Slaughtered Lamb. He always seemed a bit like the David Warner character in The Omen to me.

Although David was cursed unlike the supposed curse of the omen this film was not, although it’s dedication in celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana didn’t do them any favours.

 

Phantasm 2 #30DaysOfFright

ph4Phantasm 2 has balls, small shiny flying metal ones with drills and lasers.

This belated sequel to the 1979 original was my introduction to the Phantasm series of films when it was released on VHS rental.

I’d loved the idea of it since seeing part of its trailer on Film ’89 (the year it was released in the UK).

I can’t imagine Barry Norman had much time or it…but how could you not love a film with deadly flying metal balls?

p2If it looks like the most expensive looking Phantasm of the all, that’s because it is. The £3 million budget is all there on the screen and there really are some epic and memorable visuals, it may not sound a lot but that is ten times the budget of the 1979 original. It really has never looked more polished and rich.

It’s just a shame that Universal let it flounder in the summer season rather than releasing it closer to Halloween where it really could find its feet. It found its second life on the VHS rental shelves, and rightly so.

p5Returning from the original, promoted in a sense to the leading character role is Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), the former ice-cream salesman. The character of Mike is back, but this time is all grown up and played by James Le Gros, in an alternate universe it would have been Brad Pitt, who also tested for the role.

Story? It’s a revenge movie with two men seeking retribution against the sinister The Tall Man, who dresses like an undertaker and drives a hearse. He collects bodies and turns them into his dwarf-like minions. Think of them as evil Jawas.

Like Sam Raimi – he has a cameo of sorts as a bag of ashes – with the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, George Miller, Mad Max and Mad Max 2 and James Cameron with The Terminator and Terminator 2, returning writer and director, Don Coscarelli, has a bigger toy box to play with.

ph3Like Cameron he gives the sequel more of an action focus. And the explosive beginning certainly makes that very clear, even for those people who haven’t seen the original it intrigues, excites and hooks you.

With Reggie and Mike’s cool black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and creeping into cemeteries on a mission to hunt down The Tall Man, a hulking haunting Angus Scrimm – best name made up or otherwise, ever – who is clearly relishing his role, at times this could almost be an episode of Supernatural featuring Dean and Sam Winchester.

ph5In fact Coscarelli stated that he was partly influenced by the grizzled Ben Mears and Mark Petrie Salem’s Lot characters hunting down vampires at the end of the two-parter. What’s not to love?

Having not seen the original at the time there was a bit of catching up to do, but having seen it since there is still an awful lot that remains unanswered, not that I have an issue with ambiguity. It only adds to its dream like quality, at times entering the same sort of realms as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors meets Evil Dead 2.

p4The quirky character of Reggie takes centre stage this time, the former ice-cream salesman showing he’s a dab hand a four-barreled shotgun of his own creation.

It’s got some great jumps and creep out moments that still stand up really well today and you never needed a big budget for that, you just needed good ideas and Phantasm 2 has plenty of them. Not all hit the mark of course, an unclear telepathic link between two characters, and a couple of unnecessary characters.

p3But when Phantasm flies it soars, like its infamous deadly spheres. They have a tour-de-force scene in a mortuary that oozes cool and plenty of blood. The balls are indiscriminate, so don’t care who they go for. Phantasm 2 taps into our fear of death and dying, and the tools associated with that, making taut use of embalming fluid in one scene.

Phantasm 5, dubbed Phantasm Ravager, has just been released, again with Coscarelli’s involvement and the last appearance of The Tall Man, Scrimm passed away earlier this year shortly after shooting.

p1Toppling The Tall Man is a tall order but it’s a cult tale that still more than holds its own today, from its recap from where the original ended and its explosive start it’s a journey that is never dull and still has the power to surprise.

King of Kings: The best Stephen King Adaptations

salems.lot_.barlow[1]On page he has terrified for decades but on both the big and small screen the results have sometimes been decidedly mixed, but here – in no particular order – is my ten fave Stephen King translations to film and TV.

10. The Dead Zone (1983)

This sterling adaptation is one of Director David Cronenberg’s more mainstream, accessible films. Christopher Walken excels with a haunting performance as school teacher Johnny Smith who is involved in a car accident and awakes from a coma several years later to discover he is ‘blessed’ with the ability to see a person’s secret or future by touching them.

It’s got an uneasy, claustrophobic feel throughout in everything from camera shots to lighting and especially Walken’s off-kilter turn. A fantastic psychological thriller with more than the odd jumpy moment which also sees fine support from Herbert Lom, Brooke Adams and Martin Sheen. A great ending.

9. Stand By Me (1986)

King isn’t just all about horror. Stand By Me is an adaptation from one of his novellas, The Body, and it’s a life-changing film that is right up there with It’s A Wonderful Life in the timeless classic stakes.

Semi-autobiographical, it recounts the tale of four young friends as they spend a summer holiday searching for a dead body. They set out eager to get a peek at the corpse but each of them grows and changes along the way.

The ending is now all the more poignant since the death of River Phoenix and those dullest tones of Richard Dreyfuss scattered throughout add gravitas. With dialogue like, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

8. Salem’s Lot (1979)

Made for TV in two parts but released theatrically in a shorter form in the UK, it’s the two-part version that is getting the thumbs up here. Directed by none other than Tobe Hooper this has to be one of the most jump inducing things to have ever graced TV screens.

Vampires taking over a small town are the order of the day as a best-selling author (David Soul) returns home but all is not as it seems. James Mason is kooky and his business partner, Mr Barlow, is clearly Nosferatu inspired and frankly disturbing. The scene where a floating vampire child appears at a window scratching and beckoning its next victim, with smoke and shot backwards to complete the eerie effect, still holds up as a classic scene to this day. You’ll never leave your curtains open again.

 

7. IT (1990)

Another made for TV adaptation, this time directed by John Carpenter alumnus, Tommy Lee Wallace. Tim Curry is electric as Pennywise the Clown. The first part is brilliant stuff, part Stand By Me, part your worst nightmares. It’s just a shame about the really lame giant spider in the (anti) climax.

Soon to get the remake treatment. Keep Curry and the storm drain; squish the spider in a giant tissue.

6. The Shining (1980)

Stephen King has never had much time for this adaptation but this is the ultimate haunted house (well, hotel) movie. It’s not so much scary per se but with its astounding visuals, it being one of the first films to fully utilise the steadicam, symbolism and uneasy foreboding it certainly leaves you breathless. Added to that Kubrick really makes you feel the coldness and isolation.

Nicholson defines bonkers with his splendid turn, whilst his son, played by Danny Lloyd, criminally in his only film role, manages to make his finger one of cinema’s scariest things ever. Redrum, redrum, redrum. Lifts and indeed triple Grand National winners were never the same again.

5. Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates even outshines Jack Nicholson here and is the only actor to pick up an Oscar for a role in a Stephen King film as the ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly as nice as pie’ Annie Wilkes. Dirty bird. Simple, terrifying and almost primeval in its horror.

James Caan’s character is ‘rescued’ from a car crash by his number one fan, just turns out she is a tad loopy and none too pleased he has killed off his lead character. Features one of the most wince-inducing moments in cinema, a tour de force, essential viewing and far more horrific than all of King’s possessed cars, vampires and children with strange powers put together.

4. The Green Mile (1999)

After The Shawshank Redemption this is Frank Darabont’s second stab at a King adaptation and for me is the better, more absorbing of the two. I know for many they find it overlong and over sentimental but you cannot deny its power to grab you, to fall in love with a mouse, to hate that guy who played Tooms on The X Files, swear at the television as you release his actions and fall in love with the gentle giant of Michael Clarke Duncan.

Once again Tom Hanks proves why he is this generation’s James Stewart and is therefore rather fitting that although it deals with death row inmates and supernatural undertones it has a distinct Capra-esque feel to it. I defy you not to cry.

3. The Mist (2007)

Also directed by Darabont this dark tale was pretty much ignored upon theatrical release, which is a crying shame as it’s a blinder. A small town is effectively cut off after a mysterious mist descends on it. Much of the town hole themselves up in the local supermarket until something starts attacking people and dragging them into the mist.

Essentially a classic 50s B-movie monster movie this has scares and effective special effects aplenty. To underline this fact it was even released on DVD in America with the option of you watching it in black and white, which it works in fantastically well.

Many of the towns folk are as terrifying as the creatures themselves and it has a real post 9/11 feel about it in places, as ever King showing us that people can be just as monstrous as actual monsters themselves. It could also be viewed in many ways as the anti-War of the Worlds and has a truly dystopian ending that will leave you reeling. An effective piece of film making that never loses your attention.

2. Pet Sematary (1989)

The film boasts some genuinely scary scenes, possibly the most frightening flashback sequence ever and Hermann Munster!

It’s undeniably creepy and raises some interesting questions about morality, death and how we deal with grief. Kings own screenplay adaptation, he even has a cameo at a funeral, blends supernatural horror with the ultimate real life horror of losing your family. The person you bury may return to life, but they aren’t the same person, there is something missing, something evil about them.

It also has an ancient American Indian burial ground, which is never, ever a good sign in a horror movie, even though it looks brilliant thanks to some excellent production design, a zombie cat, a murderous toddler with a scalpel that makes Chucky look like Maggie Simpson, and one helluva an ending. As former Munster, a fantastic Fred Gwynne, utters, “sometimes dead is better”.

1. Carrie (1976)

Fittingly both the first novel penned by King and his first ever film adaptation, helmed by Hitchcock super fan, Brian De Palma. The split screen technique may have dated it all somewhat but that still doesn’t deny the film its power and ferocity. Nobody likes a bully and Sissy Spacek ensures we have a character that is both likable and much misunderstood.

A high school revenge coming of age horror, Degrassi Junior High was never like this; Carrie is note perfect in showing that bullies never prosper. The pig’s blood scene is truly iconic and disturbing whilst the scare the bejesus out of you ending has been oft-imitated but rarely bettered. With its soft focus at times it has a dreamlike feeling to it, but don’t fool yourself this is bonafide horror.

Top Ten vampires from film and TV

10. Katrina (Vamp)
Grace Jones vamps it up to 11 with a typically flamboyant over the top performance as a seductive stripper vampire in the horror comedy, Vamp, where she manages to be both sexy and darned scary in this film that might give fans of From Dusk Till Dawn – this came first – the odd sense of Déjà Vu.

9. Jerry Dandrige
Remade with none other than David Tennant in the old Roddy McDowell role (fabulous casting), Fright Night, had Chris Sarandon (he always looked like he had too many teeth so was perfect) as a seductive vampire who moves next door to William Ragsdale. Essentially an updating of Dracula in suburbia this set the scene for a mini-revival in vampire movies, with everything from The Lost Boys, Near Dark and Vamp.

8. Dracula (Bela Lugosi)
He only nabbed the role after Lon Chaney met his maker. Lugosi had also performed the role to great acclaim on Broadway, his performance, with that look and that broken English is the image of Dracula we all know and is still the most oft-imitated in popular culture. Lugosi never could escape the character, even in death, as he was buried with his cloak! And he’s probably spinning in that as well as former American Idol host, Ryan Seacrest, now resides in his house. Now, that is the stuff of nightmares!

7. Mr Barlow – Salem’s Lot
No, not Ken, although he has been in Corrie since time began, so you never know! Most people remember Tobe Hooper for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but first and foremost I will always think of his two-part, three hour adaption of the Stephen King classic, Salem’s Lot, with David Soul and James Mason. This has great visuals and music with set pieces that haunted a generation, from the wind in the woods to the scratching at the windows  (those poor little Glik boys)and shot backwards footage that just has eerie written all over it.

The first time we see the lead vampire though is an image that a whole generation probably never forgot, no even if they closed their eyes, it was still there

Whatever you do, forget Return to Salem’s Lot and also the Rob Lowe remake.

6. Dracula (Frank Langella)
Used to playing villains he’s played everyone from Nixon to Skeletor but Superman Return’s Perry White made for a formidable Dracula against Larry Olivier’s Van Helsing in the 1978 rendition, complete with big hair, of Dracula. Like Lugosi, Langalla came to the role having already stuck his teeth into it on Broadway.

Take away some of the 70s trappings and we actual have probably one of the most underrated performances of Dracula ever committed to film.

5. Dracula (Christopher Lee)
Christopher Lee played the role of the caped one an amazing nine times and it’s no wonder that it is still classed as his signature role. It also had a massive impact on a whole generation of filmmakers who grew up watching them on late night TV, so it is of no surprise that we see him being utilised in film by Spielberg, Dante, Lucas and Jackson…although it will never ever explain Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow.
 

4. Martin
George A Romero isn’t just about zombie’s taking over the earth he’s also about neat little character studies like this as well. The most interesting thing about Martin, also the title of the film, is that he thinks that he is a vampire but he actually isn’t one.  Like Romero’s other work, and all great horror, it makes a stark commentary on society and is as haunting today as it was then. It shares some of the same themes as Taxi Driver, which is very much a horror movie in many ways. Thought provoking stuff and Romero’s own favourite film.
 

3. Selene (Underworld)
Girls, you can keep your R Patz we’ve got Kate Beckinsdale in Underworld. Sure it might be all Matrix-esque in its style but that still doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the carnage in-between…and all those lingering shots of Kate in her tighter than tight rubber outfit of course.

The sequels were awful but the original has bite and action aplenty, showing those Twilight folk how to really do a battle between Werewolves and Vampires.

2. Angel
For me, leaner, wittier, darker, edgier than Buffy, this LA set spin-off had a more grown up feel about it, with Angel’s past owing more than a nod and a wink to Interview with a Vampire in the style stakes. Cinematic in scope, the show hit the floor running with an amazing scene where Angel throws a vampire in a board meeting out of the window of a high rise building, chair and all, with the vampire bursting into flames in the LA sun. It also ended as it began with Angel and co with their very own Butch and Sundance moment against a whole series of beasties, in between that we also had the rather excellent episode where Angel was cursed and turned into a muppet-like character for most of the episode, still voiced by Boreanaz of course. Inspired and did that rare spin off thing of stepping out of the shadows from the show from whence it came.

1. Nosferatu
Salem’s Lot’s vampire had more than a sinister nod in the looks department to the granddaddy of all screen vampires. It may be silent but being a piece of German Expressionism, the pictures speak a thousand words.  The titular role is played by Max Schreck, which, uncoincidently, was also the name of Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns. The ‘making’ of Nosferatu was also the subject of Shadow of the Vampire, which supposed that Schreck, magnificently portrayed by Willem Dafoe, was an actual vampire!